Religion Today Summaries, July 1, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, July 1, 2003

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.  In today's edition:

  • 200 Police Halt Church Construction in Vietnam 
  • 83-Year-Old Ten Commandments Plaque Can Stay
  • Police Use Lure of Registration to Arrest Chinese Church Leaders
  • Pope Warns Against 'Loss of Europe's Christian Heritage'

200 Police Halt Church Construction In Vietnam
Compass Direct

For the second time in three years, authorities in Thu Thiem district of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) halted the construction of a church building. This time, however, they did not destroy the initial construction, as Christians involved showed increased sophistication in their organizational skills. At 4 a.m. on June 9, Christian believers transported building materials to the construction site and, while one group gathered to pray, another constructed the temporary building's frame. At 7 a.m., an estimated 200 police arrived on the scene, but left after realizing they could not legally stop the building project. Police then sent a gang of troublemakers to the site, but efforts to provoke the praying Christians failed. The incident ended when authorities seized and hauled away all the building materials. Two weeks later, Catholic priests Peter Nguyen Huu Giai and Peter Phan Van Loi published an unprecedented "Letter of Solidarity with the Protestant Church in Vietnam" in which they expressed strong support for Christians involved in the Thu Thiem building project, as well persecuted Montagnard believers in the central highlands.

83-Year-Old Ten Commandments Plaque Can Stay
Religion News Service

An appellate court has ruled that a Ten Commandments plaque that has long hung on the facade of a Pennsylvania courthouse can remain there for the sake of historical preservation and does not constitute an official endorsement of religion. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a reasonable person acquainted with the plaque's history would consider a ruling to leave it there as religiously neutral, not evangelical. The plaque has been attached to the Chester County Courthouse in since 1920. "We cannot ignore the inherently religious message of the Ten Commandments," wrote Judge Edward R. Becker. "However, we do not believe that there can never be a secular purpose for posting the Ten Commandments, or that the Ten Commandments are so overwhelmingly religious in nature that they will always be seen only as an endorsement of religion." Margaret Downey, a member of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, an atheist group that considers the plaque to be a violation of church-state separation, said she might appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Chester County Commissioner Andrew Dinniman, who is Jewish, disagreed, saying the commandments may be inspired by religion but have a place in the history of secular law, too.

Police Use Lure of Registration to Arrest Chinese Church Leaders
Voice of the Martyrs
Church leaders in Yunnan Province, China, were thrilled when police said they could get government registration for their church group. The group had sought registration, which would give legal sanction to their church meetings, since the Chinese government changed the church registration law in 1994. They were told to bring their leaders to a meeting to sign the needed documents, but when 12 leaders arrived, officers of the Public Security Bureau (PSB), the Court Marshall's office and the prosecutor's office awaited them. The 12 were arrested without warrants or required documentation. "Police say these are law-breakers," said a spokesman. "But this clearly shows that these are patriotic citizens trying to follow their country's laws if they can do so in good conscience." Eight of the leaders were sentenced to three years of "laogai," so-called re-education through labor. This sentence can be given in China without filing formal charges or a formal trial. The other four leaders were indicted and held for trial, which likely means they will face sentences longer than three years. During a 1997 "anti-cult" campaign, eight of the group's leaders were sent to a labor camp. Some were put on public display, where police encouraged passers-by to spit on them. "This is business-as-usual for the underground church in China," said the spokesman.

Pope Warns Against 'Loss of Europe's Christian Heritage'
Peggy Polk, Religion News Service

Appealing anew to the European Union to give formal recognition to the continent's Christian roots, Pope John Paul II has warned that the "loss of Europe's Christian memory and heritage" has serious consequences for society. The Roman Catholic pontiff said that growing secularism in Europe is causing a "kind of fear of the future," which he blamed for a falling birth rate, a decline in religious vocations and rejection of marriage. The pope's appeal was contained in a statement responding to concerns expressed by Europe's bishops at a meeting known as a synod. John Paul signed the document Saturday. Secretary general of the Synod of Bishops acknowledged at a news conference the release of the document was timed to coincide with discussion of a new European Union constitution. The Vatican was dismayed when a first draft of the preamble said that Europe was nourished by `Hellenic and Roman civilizations" and "the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment" but not specifically by Christianity. "I would like to mention in a particular way the loss of Europe's Christian memory and heritage, accompanied by a kind of practical agnosticism and religious indifference," the pope wrote. "It is no real surprise, then, that there are efforts to create a vision of Europe which ignores its religious heritage."